Ten Rumors about Michelle Latimer
Fact-checking a public shaming (with responses)
In Michelle Latimer’s career, she has given over 70 interviews or media appearances — half occurring in a three month press blitz starting August 2020. I have compared primary sources — what she has actually said — versus the top ten rumors about her online. I’ve rated them using Snopes’ rating system.
My fact-checks were shared with Michelle Latimer prior to publication. She did not agree with all my assessments. Her point-by-point responses are included.
A key principle in this review is the difference between a primary, secondary and tertiary source of information. Meaning: there is a difference between email correspondence, an actual audio/video recording, a journalist’s verbatim transcript, a condensed interview, hearsay, finally a ‘someone told me she said’. As a result, the write ups require unpacking a lot of information.
Claims: Michelle Latimer…
- has claimed to be “from” Kitigan Zibi and that claim has been around for 20 years. [MIXTURE/MOSTLY FALSE]
- said her mother was “First Nation” [MIXTURE]
- “received countless Indigenous grants” or “million dollar grants”. [FALSE]
- said a grandparent went to residential school. [FALSE]
- has crowded out Indigenous voices. [MIXTURE]
- has millions and is paying PR firm Navigator $50,000 in consultation services which paid for an expert genealogical investigation. [FALSE]
- is not Métis because Métis don’t exist outside the historic Métis Nation. [FALSE]
- is a threat to Algonquin land claims. [FALSE]
- is a “white supremacist” “wishnabee” “race-shifting” “Fétis” “play Indian” “thindian” or “pretendian”. [LEGEND]
- based her identity on an ancestor from the 1500s (or 1600s or 1700s) [FALSE]
Timeline of Events
- 1976: Michelle Latimer Born
- ~1990: First job (age 13 or 14): Fort William Historical Park, representing Indigenous culture for tourists “dressed like a young Ojibwe Métis girl from the 1800s” (see photo in header image).
- 1994–1997: Concordia University BFA Theatre Performance & minor in Film Studies
- ~2001: Cast in soap opera “Paradise Falls” 67 episodes (aired 2001–2008) Trish Simpkin a “bisexual goth” (not publicly identifying as Indigenous)
- ~2004: Cast in “The Unnatural and Accidental Women” at Native Earth Performing Arts (role unknown, presumably Metis)
- 2006–2007 Ryerson University — continuing Ed. courses
- Oct 17, 2007: Earliest public mention of Métis “Michelle Latimer is a Metis actor and filmaker…”
- Jan 20, 2011: Earliest public mention of Algonquin “I’m Métis, meaning mixed Algonquin French descent”
- ~Summer 2020: CBC begins investigation (Deer & Barerra)
- Aug 14, 2020: Earliest mention of Kitigan Zibi “She is of Algonquin, Métis and French heritage, from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg (Maniwaki), Quebec.”
- ~Oct 2020: CBC contacts Jesse Wente of Indigenous Screen Office
- Oct 20, 2020: CBC contacts Michelle Latimer for first time regarding ancestry.
- Dec 17, 2020 10:00 AM: Michelle Latimer posts Facebook Statement
- Dec 17, 2020 3:32 PM: Globe and Mail story ‘I made a mistake’: Canadian filmmaker Michelle Latimer addresses Indigenous ancestry questions.
- Dec 17, 2020 3:54 PM: CBC story Award-winning filmmaker Michelle Latimer’s Indigenous identity under scrutiny.
- Apr 23, 2021 STATEMENT OF CLAIM filed against CBC and Journalists (Deer, Barerrara, Sterritt and Deacon)
- Nov 16, 2021 Drops lawsuit against CBC.
#10. Claim: Michelle Latimer has claimed to be “from” Kitigan Zibi and that claim has been around for 20 years.
Origin: Latimer has always said she grew up in Thunder Bay. She has proven she has family in Kitigan Zibi through her great-grandfather’s twin brother William Gagnon. This has been verified by Kitigan Zibi Elder Annie Smith St. Georges and accepted as valid by some of the wider Indigenous community.
How long has Latimer claimed Kitigan Zibi?
The rumor of a ‘20 year lie’ began with a Variety Magazine tweet stating “Michelle Latimer, one of Canada’s top directors, isn’t who she’s claimed to be for 20 years” which then snowballed into filmmaker Jeff Barnaby further denouncing her on social media. On Dec 23, 2020 he responded to my tweet asking how he could be certain it was a “lie” saying “because she had 20 years to correct it”. This might have been a misreading of Michelle’s statement that her connection “was not formally verified.” The rumor was perpetuated when Ryan White-Nobles, Editor at TV Source tweeted in part “Michelle Latimer LIED for 20 years about being Indigenous”.
It is unknown if Latimer has mentioned Kitigan Zibi privately to others prior to the NFB press materials. Her earlier references to “community” have been vague, relational or specific to people she knew growing up in Thunder Bay.
‘Connection to Kitigan Kibi’ vs. ‘From Kitigan Zibi’
Latimer’s first public mention of Kitigan Zibi was 2 months prior to the CBC story in a series of NFB and later TIFF press materials that stated “Algonquin, Métis and French heritage, from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg (Maniwaki), Quebec”. Depending on the press release, it was followed by a statement that Latimer grew up in Thunder Bay. Latimer’s claim was made after the production of Trickster and Inconvenient Indian had finished.
The Manawaki/Kitigan Zibi reference was clarified in a Georgia Straight interview three weeks after the first NFB press release. Latimer’s mother was “raised in Northern Ontario, away from her community in Kitigan Zibi”. The wording was the author’s and not a direct quote of Latimer.
The word “connection” versus “from” is important. The NFB press release blurs the two in that Manawaki, the community her grandfather is from, is in brackets. Latimer’s apology (archived) published on Facebook said “our family resided in the Maniwaki/Kitigan Zibi area” “My grandfather talked about our family being Indigenous (sometimes he would say Metis) and we always thought he was from Kitigan Zibi, or one of the neighbouring communities. When he spoke about these communities he gave the impression that they were all connected, and that it was all the same land.” her apology was first reported in the Globe and Mail and the CBC story ran five hours later.
When Daniel Garber interviewed Latimer September 11 2020, the line between “connection” and “from” was blurred. 5 minutes into the interview Garber says “You’re of Algonquin Metis, and French heritage from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg” Latimer makes a “hmm” sound affirming what he said. An inattentive listener might assign the “heritage” as being “from” or have thought Latimer herself was “from” Kitigan Zibi and not from Thunder bay which she has stated in repeated interviews.
Another gaff or -charitably interpreted- reference to community was in a 2013 Playback Online article about her rapper documentary Alias where Latimer said “I was worried. I didn’t want to be an outsider coming into a community, because I know that feeling,”
All of Latimer’s community references have been vague. In September, she told Tribute Movies “growing up I didn’t really see representations of my community or my people on screen […] when I started to make work behind the camera I thought: I want to see my community represented in a way that feels authentic to my experience.” Again in September she told TRNTO that the Trickster book, in reference to her experience growing up in Thunder Bay, spoke to the “Indigenous community,” in the book “felt truthful to my own experience.” In a Sept 14 2020 interview with Ismaila Alfa for Metro Morning, Latimer said “Growing up I never saw reflection of my community in a way I thought was satisfying.”
The earliest reference to community is from Latimer recalling a memory from 2007. In October 2020 Fashion Magazine interview Latimer recalls a mentor saying “your community’s underrepresented in the media.”
An October interview with The GATE Latimer said she wanted to “celebrate our communities.” In a September 2020 interview with Moment of Truth Latimer references “my community” in relation to Thunder Bay where she personally grew up.
One could infer “my community” when referencing Thunder Bay and “our community” when speaking of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people in general.
Latimer also references “an urban Indigenous community” in her 2021 Medium post and twice in earlier interviews. In the interview with Seventh Row she said “as a Native person living in an urban centre, we often go unseen. Unless we’re doing a shawl dance or a round dance at a protest, people don’t even know that we’re there. They consider us regulated to reservations or rural communities when there’s such a huge population of urban Indigenous people.” In an interview with Daniel Garber when referencing how she found subjects: artists, filmmakers, craters “from the community” to be in Inconvenient Indian, Latimer referenced a peer group as “Native community” versus a non-Native one.
Similarly, when Latimer references “elders” and “ancestors” some assume she is referencing a specific community of origin. But when you’re Metis from the Algonquin region, growing up in Thunder Bay, one might expect that the elders may be outside their community. Context and one’s life experience interprets language.
Those who are not familiar with the process of reconnecting may find Latimer’s use of “ancestors” as inaccurate due to her genealogy but it’s acceptable in some circles if ceremonially adopted. Else, an outsider would always remain an outsider.
#9. Claim: Michelle Latimer said her mother was “First Nation”.
Origin: CBC originally misquoted Toronto Star as being the source of an interview where Latimer said her “mother is First Nation” but it was a 2013 interview with The Globe and Mail where she said “My mother is First Nation. My father is not. So, I’ve always had a foot in two canoes.” CBC fixed the attribution 5 weeks after co-author Jorge Barerra denied the misquote.
This claim requires careful attention to the difference between “First Nations” (plural) and “First Nation” (singular). The words “First Nation” and “First Nations” first came into being in the 1980s and only gained widespread use by the mid 90s. The words “First Nations” (plural) have changed meaning over time along with word preference.
In an email, Michelle told me that the 2013 Globe interview was conducted over the phone. She denies actually saying “First Nation” (singular) explaining that she “was not familiar with the fact that artists could ask for corrections.” By her account she “would never have said ‘First Nation’,”— and would have said “First Nations” (plural).
This is believable. While reviewing other interviews I found a consistent use of “First Nations” (plural) not “First Nation” (singular). In an interview with Huffington Post a month and a half prior to the Globe Interview, Latimer spoke of “Growing up mixed, First Nations and not and sort of straddling both worlds.”
Latimer’s earliest use of “First Nations” (plural) has been consistent with what was politically correct at the time. In a 2011 interview with Her Film where Latimer is asked specifically about “the situation for First Nations women filmmakers in Canada” and answers that Latimer she is not able to speak to all First Nations experiences. Instead Latimer says that based upon her own experience “as a Métis filmmaker,” that she is “consistently struck by the depth of talent and strength emerging from deep within our community.”
In an email Globe reporter Brad Wheeler told me the interview with Latimer was probably over the phone and had it been an email interview he would have identified it as such. Brad no longer has a copy of the interview and told me “It’s possible the interview was edited and condensed…it should have said that, but I guess it did not.”
Complicating things further, three weeks prior to the phone interview being published, The Globe and Mail modified its journalism Style Guide to capitalize “First Nations”. The article by the Public Editor states that “First Nations” was sometimes used as a synonym for words like “Indian”.
Had the interview been conducted with an Indigenous journalist the non-plural “First Nation” would have likely led to the question “which First Nation?”
In a more recent interview with the Toronto Star, Latimer was talking about her documentary Inconvenient Indian and how it relates to Robert Flaherty’s famous doc Nanook of the North saying “I’ve been very struck by this ethnographic gaze, which I do feel colours a lot of First Nations experience,” and even makes a reference to her own appearance “So many of us have mixed ancestry or we don’t look like, as Thomas King says, that 19th-century version (of Indigenous people)”.
#8. Claim: Michelle Latimer “received countless Indigenous grants” or “million dollar grants”.
Origin: Devery Jacobs, an actress in two of Jeff Barnabe’s feature films, tweeted Latimer “received countless Indigenous grants”. This tweet was amplified by the CBC without being fact-checked.
Latimer wrote on Medium “Let me be very clear, I have never applied for a grant where I did not meet eligibility criteria. All of my self-produced work that has received Indigenous-specific grant support has been assessed and approved by professional, established Indigenous administrators and/or artists.”
Latimer’s footnote for this statement was to “correct the record as has been reported in the media.” that “none of these grants were awarded based on Indigenous identity.” The award for 2014 short film The Underground had a team that “included three Indigenous producers and was therefore eligible to receive this award” and to the best of her knowledge her films “have never received Indigenous-specific awards.”
#7. Claim: Michelle Latimer said a grandparent went to residential school.
Origin: On Dec 17th, Veldon Coburn, Assistant Professor at uOttawa Institute for Indigenous Research and Studies tweeted that Latimer spoke about her grandparents residential school experience. This was later repeated by others on Dec 18th and May 12th.
This was a misreading of an Oct 13th 2020 Fashion Magazine article confusingly called “My Story” wherein Latimer is quoted recounting a story of Alethea Arnaquq-Baril who is in the documentary Inconvenient Indian. The highlighted sentence, out of context, does say “our grandparents” but the previous sentence Michelle is moving narrative voice. Latimer says “we show filmmaker Alethea” and “I think [Alethea] really hit the nail on the head when she said”.
Fashion Magazine Journalist Pahull Bains did not respond to a tweet prompting a comment.
In an interview with Democracy Now! When the topic of Residential School was brought up, Latimer did not mention any family experience surrounding Residential school. Only the host of RISE, Sarain Fox did.
In a 2015 interview with CFUV Latimer said on programming films “so many people have tackled the theme of residential schools or the story of residential school -and is obviously very sensitive- and they’ve tackled it from a topical approach”. In the 70+ interviews I’ve reviewed, Latimer has never said her mother went to residential school.
When Latimer referenced her own upbringing she told David Peck about nuns in her school “I know, even from a very small age, my parents were quite active in encouraging me to look critically, particularly at Christianity, in my own upbringing. We had nuns come into our school -it was a public school not in the catholic school board- they had nuns come into the school and teach Bible studies every friday and my parents ended up taking me out of those classes because they wanted to encourage critical thought around these stories as the only stories to believe.”
Correction Aug 26, 2022: A link to Fashion Magazine’s Flare section was incorrectly named as Vanity Fair. (The tweet to Pahull Bains correctly tagged Fashion Magazine)
#6. Claim: Michelle Latimer has crowded out Indigenous voices.
Origin: This is a challenging claim to assess because the claim has a built in judgement that she isn’t Indigenous. Instead I will try to answer: how did Michelle Latimer become a prominent voice and was it based on an honest accounting of her life?
Michelle has been consistent in telling people that she is reconnecting. She was invited in and encouraged by communities.
Michelle’s career began as an actress where she feared publicly identifying as Indigenous. She said it would have her “Pigeon holed” her into Indigenous roles. As an actress, it did.
In an October 5th 2020 interview with Televixen, Latimer explained how she was considering a career move off the screen into medicine. “I was pretty disillusioned by acting. It didn’t take me very long doing it. I’d done a number of series leads [that] were fun and interesting. I just felt like something was missing and I didn’t feel like I was contributing in a way that maybe I wanted to,” she recalls.
“I actually did my medical school pre-med courses and interviews. And in that process of waiting to see if I would get into medical school, I was hired as a researcher on a project about Doctors Without Borders. When I was doing research, I met a doctor who, in the middle of his research interview, stopped and grabbed me and said, ‘Why are you going to medical school?’ I said, ‘I want to help people.’ […] And he looked at me and said, ‘You’re an artist. The world needs its artists. And there are many ways to heal. You don’t have to do medicine to work, to heal.’ It was a life-changing moment. I walked away from that interview and [realised] he’s right. I’d been thinking so narrow-mindedly, and it just changed my path. And that’s when I started to get behind the camera.”
She was asked to direct the series RISE by Producer Eddy Moretti and the documentary Inconvenient Indian by Producer Jesse Wente. The book was almost a decade old when production started.
Latimer, in an interview about Trickster with The GATE October 2020 she said “We’re very involved in structuring the production so that we had training opportunities so it was sort of a two-tiered structure to bring Indigenous people into roles behind the camera so we would have like a training mentorship level. We had an extensive director training program. Different departments would have training but we also would have paid positions so that people, who maybe had experience in the past, could get more experience and that credit to put on their resume. Creating that capacity moving forward for Indigenous people. That’s kind of what my goal is with the show on all levels.”
#5. Claim: Michelle Latimer has millions and is paying PR firm Navigator $50,000 in consultation services which paid for an expert genealogical investigation.
Origin of “millions”: December 23, 2020 filmmaker Jeff Barnabe tweeted Latimer was “sitting on a pile of money”. April 23 2021 Maya tweeted that Latimer “receives million dollar grants” May 28 2021 k̓ʷəck̓ʷact tkəłmilxʷ tweeted “Latimer has literally made millions stealing from us over the years”
I asked Latimer about her finances and she said she doesn’t have financial support from parents and paid for her own education by working. She said she had “one good year” following up later to say “I guess you can technically say I had two ‘good years’ financially,” and it involved working “over 80 hours a week.”
Latimer doesn’t have a track record of hoarding cash from awards. September 20, 2020 Latimer announced that she would “dedicate and give the prize money to five emerging Indigenous artists.”
David Friend of Canadian Press tweeted about the announcement “A lot of times when she had (prizes) given to her, she would pay them forward,” adding “[Ava Duvernay] inspired her to split her $10,000 cash prize between 5 emerging Indigenous artists.”
(DISCLOSURE: I dislike Navigator on instinct and I believe they represented someone I wrote a negative article about.)
Origin of $50,000 PR rumor: On May 11 2021, Michelle released her statement on Medium concurrent with an interview in The Globe. In response, journalist Nora Loretto tweeted the question “You pay them $50,000 and then you get to speak ““““your truth”””” to a mostly white audience?”. When I asked Nora about the source of the amount, she admitted to having “no idea what the amount is”.
On the same day, Saint Mary’s University Assistant Prof Darryl Leroux known to be adversarial towards non-MNC Metis tweeted “Hiring Malette & Pulla and then calling them “experts” is a bit rich, even for Navigator (PR firm)”
I asked Latimer about PR firm Navigator and she said they offered support pro-bono. Similarly, Sébastien Malette and Siomonn Pulla worked pro-bono. There was no exchange of money.
UPDATE: Sebastien Malett after publication confirmed what was written and tweeted “There was no « hiring »” that it was a “Baseless accusation.”
#4. Claim: Michelle Latimer is not Métis because Métis don’t exist outside the historic Métis Nation.
Origin: There is a heated debate about the origins of Métis people. In the last few years, there has been a growing need to distinguish between those who are Métis Nation (mostly a mix of Plains Cree with Canadian French with a well studied history) who qualify for MNC membership and Other Metis who don’t qualify for MNC.
Producer Lisa Genaille admitted to raising doubts about Michelle’s ancestry in 2019 when she tweeted “my brother [Andrew or Robert] told CBC [Michelle Latimer] wasn’t Métis when he pitched our series and it was down to Trickster and ours.” Separately, according to Latimer’s Statement of Claim in mid-late 2020, Jeff Barnaby had contacted CBC and provided email correspondence in which Mr. Barnaby complained to the Indigenous Screen Office about Ms. Latimer’s ancestry.
In the 70+ interviews reviewed, Michelle Latimer has never claimed to be a member of Métis Nation. Since the earliest interviews, Latimer described herself as “Métis, meaning mixed Algonquin French descent”. Which, to me intuitively means Métis of the Algonquin region (else language or tribal descent). These distinctions have matter more to some than others and have not been clear in every interview.
Sometimes a writer might change the spoken “I’m Algonquin Métis” and written either “Métis-Algonquin,” “Metis/Algonquin” or “Metis (Algonquin)”. Some might then misunderstand Michelle’s claim to have been a mix of “Métis Nation Citizen and Algonquin Nation Citizen”. The latter being a very different claim than Métis of Algonquin descent.
Who are the Other Métis? The 1994 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples describes ‘The Other Metis’ by stating “Several Métis communities came into existence, independently of the Métis Nation, in the eastern part of what we now call Canada, some of them predating the establishment of the Métis Nation.” concluding “other Métis would constitute a minority within a minority within a minority: they are a neglected fragment of Canada’s Métis population, which is itself a small and too often overlooked part of the larger Aboriginal minority.”
Since the inclusion of Metis on the 1991 Canadian Census there has been a steady increase in people outside Métis Nation identifying as Métis on Census. If growth trends continue, Métis Nation’s leadership would no longer represent the majority of people defining themselves as Métis. This demographic shift has resulted in fear and resentment among politicians and an unknown percent of citizens in Métis Nation.
#3. Claim: Michelle Latimer is a threat to Algonquin land claims.
Origin: CBC story published May 17th 2021 tried to link Latimer’s identity to land claims of groups she has not joined. Journalist Jorge Barerra made a guilt-by-association by stating “Some of the threads that run through Latimer’s ancestral findings and conclusions also weave through legal battles fought for years in Eastern Canadian courts that have roiled established First Nations.”
Michelle Latimer says she is a land defender and water protector. She wrote her the footnotes of her statement that her lineages have been studied and are “among the approved ancestral lines accepted for potential membership to at least two contemporary organizations that represent the interests of non-Status and/or Métis communities in Canada” but has not joined them.
#2. Claim: Michelle Latimer is a “white supremacist” “wishnabee” “race-shifting” “Fétis” “play Indian” “thindian” or “pretendian”.
Origin: When people believe one or more of these false claims they tend to have a negative perception of Latimer and throw these words around. Overall, I don’t believe white supremacy manifests as someone putting aside medical school to instead spend 20 years making low-budget Indigenous content.
I think where people are concerned is how she often shifts narrative voice to “our” or “we” when describing common experiences within the Indigenous community that are not personally her own. The most overt example can be found near the end of an interview with Daniel Garber when Latimer says “We have always been resourceful as a people. How do you live through a genocide that like spanned hundreds of years and still maintain your culture and languages traditions? We’ve managed to do that. It hasn’t been easy but we’ve managed to do that.”
In response to this Latimer wrote me saying
This suggests that the act of genocide is not something my family or ancestors have lived through and that is not true. My family refused to move onto the reserve and that is why they lived in Baskatong — they were essentially in hiding and Elders have told me they were commonly known as “Bush People”. When I say things like the [above] quote — I am referencing that history and where my family comes from — I see this as a part of my history and my experience because that is what I come from. I also am actively involved in cultural traditions and ceremony — many people can attest to this fact. So I have been able to reconnect culturally and that is how “we” keep culture alive despite the challenges.
Origin: The narrative that Michelle relied on a distant ancestor is primarily being pushed by Assistant Professor Darryl Leroux who believes that proximity to a “root ancestor” (aka “full blood”) in the family tree should determine one’s identity (knowledge, actions and relations are secondary or irrelevant).
According to Latimer’s statement of claim: CBC used an unsolicited, unprofessional genealogy to force her into an interview thus forcing her to do a quick genealogy that might normally take years.
The Genealogist CBC quoted is a Eugenics buff who, similar to the upper echelons of the Catholic Church, believe you can breed the Indian out of someone or rid them of “hereditary baggage.”
Latimer’s Facebook statement from December 18 2020 stated “At this point, on paper, I can formally trace through source documentation, one line of our Indigenous ancestry dating back to the 1700’s.” but was clear in stating “My family and I are also working on confirming other Indigenous ancestors, some of whom might have been misidentified.” five months later, The Globe and Mail reported on a 27-page preliminary report by experts in Indigenous rights and Metis history, working pro-bono:
Ms. Latimer’s Indigenous ancestry through “two ancestral lines that run through her paternal and maternal grandparents.” The authors note that her ancestral connections are “rooted in the small historical community of Baskatong that was known for its Algonquin and Metis population.” And they add that the “family and oral traditions that have shaped Michelle Latimer’s Algonquin Metis identity are consistent with the documented history, culture and struggles of a larger non-status and Metis diaspora located in the Ottawa and Gatineau Valleys.”
From a practical standpoint, Latimer could not have built her identity through genealogy for the simple reason of it being an impossible genealogical undertaking at the time of first identification. Michelle identified as Métis 20 years ago, around year 2000 before a robust online genealogy would have been available. In 2007 Nos Origines only had 3540 names. Similarly, Ancestry.ca in 2009 only had historical Census from 1851–1916.
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.